Devin Toner knows the lineout will be one of the most highly contested areas when Leinster meet Racing 92 on Saturday in Bilboa. With former Munster lock Donnacha Ryan, Fiji 7s Olympic gold medallist Leone Nakarawa and the dynamic Yannick Nyanga adding quality to Racing, Toner knows that only precision, particularly in his specialist area, will win the day.
“They have one of the best defensive lineouts in the league,” says Toner. “The best. And they are brilliant at getting up in the air, brilliant at mirroring, especially with Nyanga in the backrow. He is very athletic. At the end of the day, a lineout is all down to the drills that you do. It is all about the throw, it is all about the jump. It is all about the timing. If we strip it all back to basics, if we get our drill right, we should be okay.”
An issue on both sides is that the forensic Ryan will know Leinster’s lineout in detail, while Toner over the years has become familiar with the traits of an Ryan lineout from the many games analysing Munster and playing with him in national camps.
The question is what to do when each side is unlikely to be surprised by the other. Toner’s answer is to do it better not to do it differently.
“Donnacha, a lot of us have played with him for a good few years with Ireland and he would know how I run a lineout and I suppose I know how he runs a lineout as well,” explains the 31-year-old. “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Do I bluff him or do I not bluff him?
“They are very good at getting up in the air, first of all. Once the hooker knows that someone will be getting up in the air, it puts pressure on him to try and get it over. That might mean he might put a little bit more on it and overthrow it.
“They are very good at mirroring, just getting up and putting pressure on. They do like to close the gap as well and try and disrupt as much as they can. On top of that, they are huge bodies. They are a big team.”
Ryan has an unusual capacity to analyse lineouts and spends much of his spare time poring over sequences. His interest has become almost a passion and, even when injured and not involved, is an influencing voice in the set-piece discussions.
Given the strength of Johnny Sexton’s kicking game, if Leinster decide at any stage to play territory, an attacking lineout without disruption would give them a threatening platform.
“When he [Ryan] was here, I got on really well with him,” says Toner. “He’d talk the hind legs off a donkey. He was really good. Even if he was injured and not involved, he would always be helping out, always be in your ear, telling you what might work, what mightn’t work.
“He does a lot of work on video as well. He spends a lot of time looking over past lineouts and what went well, what worked, what didn’t. He has a lot of years of experience doing that sort of stuff.
“When we were at Ireland, we would be coming up with calls and he would say, ‘Oh yeah, you did that two years ago with Leinster. I don’t even remember that. How do you remember it?’ He puts his homework in anyway.”